Fresh seafood is the main attraction on the menu in Padang Bai and pretty much any of the warungs or restaurants along the beachfront can grill or fry or steam up a pescatarian storm. During the low season do check it’s fresh and not frozen. Sadly, a lot of the seafood on display is undersize. If there’s a few of you, order a large fish to share rather than several small ones.
Besides seafood, there are the usual smattering of travellers’ cafes with extensive menus and not so extensive originality — spanning the spectrum from nasi goreng to pasta, pizza and burgers. Warungs along Jalan Pelabuhan Padang Bai cater to locals catching the ferry with tasty takeaway nasi bunkus packets, and in the evening a few stalls set up outside the Perama office.
While you’re in East Bali, there’s a good opportunity to learn how to make some local dishes at the beautiful Bali Asli Cooking School. On your way to or from Padang Bai, or if you visit Pura Goa Lawah, stop and pick up some tasty locally produced sea salt at Kusumba and make sure you take a detour to Warung Merta Sari for some fish satay — you’ll be in for a treat.
Beachfront Kerti Restaurant has the advantage of being on the second floor overlooking the ocean — the stairs are quite steep, so watch out! They have an extensive menu of Indonesian, Chinese and Western food. Prawns, fish and squid dishes go for about 50,000 rupiah and include rice and veggies, or chips and salad. Daily specials for whole fish by weight, are bought to your table to check its freshness. The side dishes are nothing to rave over, but the fish is cooked to perfection. Go for a breezy front table if you can. In the evening it’s very romantically lit with a number of small lamps (that is: hard to read the menu). The beer is icy cold.
Laidback Topi Inn has a great travellers’ vibe. Bright orange, lime green and purple are the not too subtle decor palette — staff wear matching uniforms. The open-air restaurant has some garden seating with views of the beach. Fresh and healthy is the focus of the menu with lots of vegetarian options. The house-baked bread is really good — they make grainy brown bread and baguettes — and real cheese. Topi Inn advertise “the best cappuccino in town”. Well, yes it is perhaps the best in town (unfortunately) but we wouldn’t rate it that highly, however it came with a special treat — a wafer stick in its very own specially made tiny bamboo holder. Some nights get lively with live music or film screenings. Service is friendly, but a little slow. Topi Inn give their food scraps to street dogs and have plastic-waste-saving drinking water refills for a minimal cost — nice one!
Hole-in-the-wall, traveller-friendly Surf and Turf Warung has fresh, good value seafood. Mum does most of the cooking, Dad does the fishing and their son does the barbecuing. When you order fish (40,000 rupiah), Ibu calls up her son to come over and fire up the barbecue — as soon as he arrives, it’s cooked out in the street in front of you. Surf and Turf Warung looks just like a regular warung, but as well as the usual nasi dishes and catch of the day, they serve traveller favourites pasta and pizza. Delicious fresh juices go for 15,000 rupiah. The menu is in English. This spot is a little hard to find, but worth seeking — they are opposite the primary school on Jalan Silayukti.
Popular Zen Inn has funky bright decor featuring large risque vintage movie posters for “adult” films. With smart red tablecloths and wooden floorboards it almost seems out of place in the tiny back street behind the harbour. Sandwiches, soups, salads and burgers as well as pasta and seafood are offered, at prices a bit higher than some of the beachfront restaurants (45,000-120,000 rupiah for mains), but then again you’re paying for the nice decor and atmosphere.
Helix LXIV has the best view in town — make sure you go when you can see it! Part of Bloo Lagoon Village, it’s perched high on the headland above Padang Bai and has sweeping views across the bay and out to sea. Prices are a lot less than you would expect for such a fantastic view at a top-end hotel. The menu is more cafe style with mains at 45,000-80,000 rupiah. Juices are around the 30,000 rupiah mark. Despite one very stylish wall made from recycled wine bottles, they don’t have a very extensive wine list — it’s mainly local. If you are too lazy to walk up the hill to get there, they have a free shuttle service.
Ozone gets very busy post sunset — comfy sit-on-the-floor style tables with cushions and long sociable benches fill up with expats and tourists in this colourful bar-style restaurant. The not overly long, handwritten menu has pasta, burgers, schnitzel and spareribs with mains around 40,000-60,000 rupiah. Very friendly staff make you feel right at home.
For a very local daytime snack Ibu Surani’s Warung serves up one dish, and one dish well: tipat tahu — a type of gado gado made with (cold) sticky rice cake, tofu, kangkung (water spinach) and bean sprouts in a spicy peanut sauce. It’s made to order, so go as spicy as you like. Very popular with locals, Ibu Surani has been in the same spot for 15 years. She doesn’t speak much English, but there’s only one dish, so hand signals work. She also sells an array of other colourful snacks and sweets. Located near the post office, she’s more a street-stall than a proper shopfront. Cheap.
The Colonial at OK Divers Resort is the smartest looking restaurant in town. The bright seafront restaurant has hammocks, beanbags, comfortable lounges and its own swimming pool. They have a short international menu with not much Indonesian fare. To help protect the underwater ecosystem — so divers will have something to look at in the future — they have a policy of not serving fish or seafood. There’s a display fridge full of desserts to tempt you. Prices match the decor — a bit more than nearby places, but not too bad. If you’re diving with OK Divers, your included lunch will be served here.
Not in Padang Bai itself, but near Goa Lawah, Warung Mertha Sari has no menu, with diners ordering simply by the number of portions they’d like of their specialty, sate lilit ikan, or minced fish sate. But this isn’t all you get: thrown into the deal is chunks-of-fish sate, barbecued minced fish pockets, fish soup laced with turmeric, sambal, wok-fried beans with coconut, crunchy hot peanuts and steamed white rice. It’s a veritable feast (and two of us ate for 70,000 rupiah in total). The decor is non-existent, the service swift and perfunctory, and the food -- well, it's delicious. If you're heading to Goa Lawah, be sure to check out Warung Mertha -- turn left a few hundred metres south of Goa Lawah, and it’s 500 metres down to the right.
Helix LXIV: Jalan Silayukti @ Bloo Lagoon Village; T: (0363) 41 211; email@example.com; www.bloolagoon.com; open daily 7:00-22:00.
Ibu Surani’s Warung: Jalan Pertima near the post office; open most days morning until mid afternoon.
Kerti Restaurant: Jalan Silayukti; T: (0363) 41 391; firstname.lastname@example.org; open daily for breakfast until late.
Ozone: Jalan Silayukti; T: (0817) 470 8597; open daily 11:00-23:00.
Surf and Turf Warung: Jalan Silayukti opposite the primary school; T: (0819) 1562 1433; www.surfnturfwarung.wordpress.com; open daily 18:00-22:00.
The Colonial: 6 Jalan Silayukti; T: (036) 341 790; email@example.com; www.okdiversresort.com; open daily 7:00-21:00.
Topi Inn: 99 Jalan Silayukti; T: (0363) 414 24; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.topiinn.nl; open daily for breakfast until late.
Warung Mertha Sari: Jalan Pesinggahan, about 7 km southwest of Padang Bai on the main through road to Kusamba (heading from the south, turn left a few hundred metres before Goa Lawah, and it’s 500 metres down to the right).
Zen Inn: Gang Segara; T: (0819) 3309 2012; email@example.com; www.zeninn.com; open daily 7:00-23:00.